As you listen to the readings of this Sunday, the picture begins to unravel why the Ordinary time is not just “ordinary.” Consistent with what an average farmer does as he prepares to go to farm or a surgeon as she plans the day’s operations at the theater or the lawyer who puts together a convincing argument to win the oncoming case, we hear from the first reading that (after his hesitation and following his submission to divine plan) Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh. Meanwhile Jesus set before Himself the thrust of His public ministry to which the proclamation of God’s reign and call to conversion stand prominent. Jonah, who was a type of Jesus, had the same message for the Ninevites—repent.
Like a diligent farmer, Jesus starts to gather His implements of work; similar to the surgeon who puts together the paraphernalia for the day’s surgery, and the lawyer who collects pages and pages of case files and legal precedents. The fisherman, too, prepares the boat, fishing rods and net and the student finds a quiet location in the library for study. What does Jesus do? He goes in search of companions. Soon, he’s seen along the Sea of Galilee. He knows that fishermen are the crop of people who can do this very patient work of fishing souls for the kingdom. He calls two of them, then another two, who all magically abandon everything, including family to follow Him. In subsequent readings, we’ll find Him calling Matthew, a tax collector, who will join in collecting, not taxes, but the hidden treasures of the kingdom in his gospel account. He calls Paul, a tent maker, to build spiritual shelters for the outcast. He calls Luke, the doctor, because there’re lots of souls to bring to, what Pope Francis calls, the field hospital. He calls you—for your unique role—perhaps to use your voice in praise of Him or your hand and feet to feed the poor, visit the sick and downtrodden, the bereaved and weary in need of comforting words.
Every one of us has been led to this ocean of divine treasure where we encounter a sublimely attractive man—Jesus, who, kind of, seizes hold of us and lovingly confines us to His boat, like He did the first people he called. We are people from varied backgrounds—in law, government, healthcare, education, aviation, finance, communication, motherhood, music and entertainment—rich and poor, mansion-dwellers and street people. We have varied skills that Jesus needs for the task of taking His message of the kingdom to the world. The work is not done yet. All of us must join hands with Peter and the other apostles to cast the net across the rivers of the world to bring in souls that will enter the boat journeying to heaven. “Mysterious fishes,” the great Church Father Tertullian calls them, “generated by the waters of baptism.”
Anyone who feels that the Ordinary time season holds no great significance must do a rethink. This season is when we return from Bethlehem where we beheld a baby born in a manger; even from Calvary where we saw a Man of Sorrow, the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world. We join Him in the task of fishing souls for God, healing those wounded by sin (including ourselves), instructing those straying from the truth, about the inscrutable wisdom of God, and serving the poor who are marginalized by our socio-economic system that favors the affluent and demonizes the weak.
Over the years, many “fishers of men” have shown great zeal. They include men and women, priests, religious, nurses, doctors and others of various professions and backgrounds who have stationed the “Bark of Peter” at the various oceans and rivers where the fish are mired in the poisonous waters of ignorance, unbelief, and dogmatic relativism. Right here in the streets of McAlester, in the offices where you work are innumerable souls that seek rescue by Christ. Your call today is to find them and bring them home.
Fr. Jovis Chukwudi Okonkwo